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Duress: When Choice Is Taken Away

Imagine facing a situation where your actions are dictated by threats and coercion, leaving you feeling trapped and powerless. That’s the realm of “duress,” a word describing immense pressure exerted on someone to force them to act against their will. Understanding duress is crucial, as it has significant implications in legal and everyday scenarios.

What Does “Duress” Mean?

Duress refers to unlawful force or threats – physical, psychological, or financial – used to compel a person to do something they wouldn’t otherwise choose. Its origins lie in the Latin word “duritia,” meaning “hardness,” reflecting the relentless nature of this pressure. The absence of genuine consent is the defining hallmark of duress.

When to Use the Word “Duress”

  • Legal Contracts: A contract signed under duress may be considered void if it can be proven that threats or coercion were involved. For example, if someone is threatened with harm unless they agree to unfavorable terms.
  • Criminal Acts: In certain cases, a defendant might claim they committed a crime under duress – that they were compelled by threats of serious consequences. The validity of such a defense rests on specific legal circumstances.
  • Manipulative Relationships: Duress can extend to emotional manipulation and coercive control. A pattern of threats, intimidation, and isolation can create a state of psychological duress within a relationship.

When Not to Use “Duress”

  • Everyday pressures: While we might say, “I only cleaned my room under duress,” (meaning you felt pressured), this is a light-hearted use of the word. True duress is a serious matter involving unlawful coercion.
  • Mere Inconvenience: An unpleasant situation you willingly choose is not duress, no matter how much you want to avoid it.

Understanding Duress, Empowering Choice

The concept of duress sheds light on the ways in which power imbalances and coercion can undermine individual freedom. Being aware of this word allows us to analyze situations with nuance and recognize when the absence of genuine choice is a serious concern.


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<a href="https://englishpluspodcast.com/author/dannyballanowner/" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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